Oxfam has just released a startling new report. We've known anecdotally for years that rape in Congo has spread. With no judicial system, eastern Congo is effectively a lawless state. With no consequences, a culture of impunity has emerged. Young men with guns — militias and Congolese army alike — rape without fear of consequences. Now civilian attacks have increased 17-fold. The report is a horrific reminder of what happens when we stand by and do nothing.
DR Congo rape crisis 'increasing' despite peacekeepers, Oxfam report says
As many as 14 women are raped every day in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, almost half of them in broad daylight and more than half in their own homes, according to a study published on Thursday.
A majority were raped by soldiers or armed rebels, but the Oxfam and Harvard Humanitarian Initiative report found a 17-fold increase in attacks by civilians between 2004 and 2008.
Congo's eastern provinces have been plagued by conflict for more than two decades.
Rape has become a weapon for the warring factions still fighting there despite the presence of the world's largest UN peacekeeping mission, which has almost 20,000 troops in the country.
"Rape of this scale and brutality is scandalous," said Krista Riddley, director of humanitarian policy at Oxfam.
"This is a wake-up call at a time when plans are being discussed for UN peacekeepers to leave the country. The situation is not secure if a woman can't even sleep safely in her own bed at night.
"Peacekeepers must continue to play a vital role in creating security while the Congolese government builds up its own capacity to keep civilians from harm." The researchers interviewed 4,311 female rape victims treated at the Panzi hospital in South Kivu province over a four year period, making this the largest such study of its kind.
More than 5,000 women were raped in South Kivu alone during 2009, according to the UN.
This stigma of the attack leads to delays in seeking treatment, with only 12 percent of the women coming to Panzi within a month of the assault.
Over 50 percent of women waited more than a year before seeking treatment, with a significant number waiting more than three years.
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What can we do?
Start by traveling with me to Congo... from the safety of your own couch. Read A Thousand Sisters, meet these women, get to know them: My sister who had a baby by gang rape and named the child "Gift from God." A five-year-old girl healing from fistula. The heroic Congolese woman who speaks out about what happened to her, even when she is the only one of her many raped neighbors who is willing to speak. Or the rape survivor who asked, "How can we manage and improve so we can become women who help other women?"
Then do one concrete thing to stop the violence.